Meet the MD: Karen Winterhalter of Onyx Health

Meet the MD: Karen Winterhalter of Onyx Health

As managing director of Onyx Health Karen Winterhalter believes that setting realistic goals and ‘getting on with it’ is the key to success. She fills BQ in on her own journey to success.

What is it you do?

When I brought Onyx Health to the North East in 2010, I wanted to offer SME clients the chance to benefit from having day-to-day, affordable access to a marketing communications agency with in-depth knowledge and expertise in healthcare marketing and PR.

I am largely involved on a strategicproblem solving level with our clients but spend a lot of time getting  my hands dirty stuffing envelopes, working exhibition stands, tracking down key opinion leaders, talking to health policy makers, facilitating advisory boards and making the coffee. 


What is it the company does?

Onyx Health is a healthcare marketing communications and PR agency. We work with pharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostics companies. Our main clients are based in the North East, North West, Midlands and Germany. If a client has a product or service that they need a healthcare professional to prescribe or use we help them market that product.  Quite a lot of our work involves medical education, influencing health policy as well as communicating through the more traditional and digital marketing channels.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Never giving up and always supporting your team’s development to achieve the company’s goals. You can be a great leader but it can be lonely at the top if you do not take your team with you.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Many of our clients are in the early stages of the commercialising their products so their healthcare marketing and PR budgets are limited. We have to make very little go a long way to ensure their success. I get very frustrated when I hear so-called celebrity entrepreneurs talk about how one piece of media coverage made them an overnight success. It leads SMEs to think that one press release is the whole sum of the marketing they need to do. Building trust in a healthcare brand is tough and can take years of blood sweat and tears to get it adopted by NHS England. After that you have to tackle NHS Wales, NHS Scotland and NHS North Ireland who all have their own health policies and funding.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I have a 75 mile round trip to the office in Newcastle and dealing with the A1 Gateshead road works and getting over the Tyne Bridge can be stressful. I leave home in Darlington at 5.30am to go to the gym in Longbenton, and that way I miss the traffic. I feel good because I have exercised, and I feel healthy because I have hit The Naked Deli in Heaton for breakfast and I’m in the office for 8.30am, stress free. Red wine also helps a lot.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A nurse looking after people with learning disabilities.


Any pet hates in the workplace?

Messy desks, unaligned bullet points and bad coffee.


Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Last year we worked very hard to become the “go to” healthcare marketing communications and PR agency in the North East, which we have achieved with companies such as Quantum Pharma, PolyPhotonix and Quality Hospital Solutions now our clients. In 5 years’ time I would like to think that these companies will have realised their true commercial potential and that Onyx Health played a significant role in that success and continues to do so.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Stop looking over your shoulder at what everyone else is doing. Get on with what you need to do to achieve your success. Set realistic goals, continue to innovate and never give up no matter how tough it gets.


Where did you start your career?

As a nurse at Prudhoe Hospital taking care of people with learning disabilities.  I then moved to a community home in St Anthony’s in Walker. Hoults Yard in Byker is where we are based, it not that far away so I feel as if I have come full circle


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far.